4 Korean artists featured at Venice Biennale’s flagship exhibition

Artists Kim Yun-shin, left, and Lee Kang-seung / Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Lehmann Maupin and the artists

The Venice Biennale, the world’s longest-running and most prestigious survey of contemporary art, is set to return to Italy’s floating city on April 20 for its 60th edition.The newly announced roster of 332 artists participating in its flagship International Art Exhibition, curated by Adriano Pedrosa under the theme of “Foreigners Everywhere,” includes four creatives who hail from Korea — two living and two historical.The octogenarian sculptor Kim Yun-shin, one of the few post-war female artists in the country, is among the selected artists. She gained belated attention in the local art scene following her inaugural retrospective at the Nam-Seoul Museum of Art in 2023.Kim had been considered “missing” from her home country’s art world since relocating to Argentina in 1984 in pursuit of the ideal creative material. Over her six-decade journey, she has crafted an organic visual language through the labor-intensive shaping of hardwood and stone, most notably in her signature series, “Add Two Add One, Divide Two Divide One.”Another contemporary talent heading to the Biennale is Seoul-born, Los Angeles-based artist Lee Kang-seung.Lee’s “artistic interventions,” which take the form of photorealistic graphite drawings, gold-threaded embroidery, slotplayground archival installations and collaborative performances, connect the overlooked legacies left behind by figures of modern LGBTQ+ history and AIDS activism around the world. By doing so, he creates a new kind of queer-centric genealogy that transcends national borders and generations.He is one of the four finalists for the 2023 Korea Artist Prize, a major contemporary art award co-organized by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA). The Biennale will also feature the works of two late painters born during the early Japanese colonial rule of Korea — Lee Qoe-de (1913-65) and Chang Woo-soung (1912-2005) — in its principal exhibition.Overall, the show turns its focus to “artists who are themselves foreigners, immigrants, expatriates, diasporic, émigrés, exiled, or refugees,” while also expanding the definition of “foreigner” to include queer, outsider, folk and Indigenous creatives, according to its curator Pedrosa.As in previous editions, this year’s Venice Biennale is twofold: the main International Art Exhibition and 90 national pavilion shows organized by their respective home countries.

The Korean Pavilion’s “Odorama Cities,” co-curated by Jacob Fabricius and Lee Seol-hui, will be anchored in artist Koo Jeong-a’s site-specific pieces with aromas that represent different cities on the peninsula. These olfactory elements are strategically placed throughout the cylindrical building to take visitors on a “Korean scent journey.” While the main charm of the Venice Biennale lies in its two-part flagship events, the city has much more to offer — namely, hundreds of satellite shows concurrently staged across its labyrinthine palazzos and alleyways, including 30 “collateral events” officially approved by the Biennale Foundation.This year, among such exhibitions, seven will be dedicated to Korean art — from the underrepresented modern trailblazers to archives looking back on the evolution of the country’s art scene over the last three decades.To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Korean Pavilion’s establishment in Venice’s Giardini parkland in 1995, the Arts Council Korea (ARKO), the pavilion’s commissioner, will host “Every Island Is a Mountain.”Mounted at the Palazzo of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, this archival show commemorates the pavilion’s history by featuring 38 artists who have represented it since its inception — including Do Ho Suh, Yun Hyong-keun and Kimsooja. There will be four collateral events put forth by cultural foundations and blue-chip galleries.

“A Journey to the Infinite: Yoo Youngkuk” at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia marks the first European showcase of Yoo (1916-2002), the pioneer of Korean abstract modernism acclaimed for distilling the nation’s natural landscape into the basic formal elements of dots, lines, planes and colors.Through some 100 large-scale oil paintings, copper prints and archival materials, the event highlights the painter’s creative zenith during the 1960s and 1970s.“Seundja Rhee: Towards the Antipodes” at ArteNova, curated by the former MMCA director Bartomeu Mari, focuses on Rhee (1918-2009), the first-generation female abstract master, while “La Maison de La Lune Brûlée” at the Fondation d’Entreprise Wilmotte introduces Korea’s centuries-old folk ritual of “daljip teugi” (Moon House Burning) through the contemplative charcoal works of Lee Bae.The Gwangju Biennale Foundation, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Asia’s oldest survey of contemporary art, will reflect on its history and founding spirit through “Madang: Where We Become Us” at Il Giardino Bianco Art Space. The featured pieces include Nam June Paik’s imposing installation, “Dolmen,” and a nickel silver bowl that once contained rice balls handed out to civilian demonstrators during the 1980 pro-democracy Gwangju Uprising.Beyond collateral events, other special exhibitions bring attention to Shin Sung-hy (1948-2009), recognized for his distinctive “nouage” method involving the weaving and knotting of painted strips of flat canvas, as well as the multinational artist collective Nine 슬롯게이밍 Dragon Heads’ experimental “Nomadic Party.”

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